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Should the Higgs Boson Be Renamed to Credit More Scientists?

Peter Higgs didn't discover the elusive speck on his own, and now some are wondering whether it should be renamed to honor some of the other scientists too

Peter Higgs with the CMS detecter at CERN. Image: Marc Buehler

Peter Higgs didn’t ask anyone to call the subatomic particle that gives all other particles mass the Higgs Boson.

This particle has a big deal recently—mostly because scientists are pretty sure they found it. Many thought that the discoverers would get the Nobel Prize last year, just a few months after announcing their findings. They almost certainly will get one eventually, assuming the data holds up. But who is the “they” here? Higgs didn’t discover the elusive speck on his own, and now some are wondering whether it should be renamed to honor some of the other scientists involved.

There were five other key physicists who the particle’s name might have honored: Francois Engelert, Gerard Guralnik, Tom Kibble, Robert Brout, and Carl Hagen. But at the press release announcing their findings, the only one who received a huge round of applause from the room was Higgs. And the co-finders noticed.

“Peter Higgs was treated as something of a rock star and the rest of us were barely recognised by most of the audience. It was clear that Higgs was the dominant name because of the fact his name has become associated with the boson,” Hagen told the BBC.

Now, the research team had come up with a name for their discovery—SM Scalar Boson—and tried to convince everyone to use it in March. But, of course, no one did.

The physicists are looking for ways to rename the particle that honors all of them or, at least, doesn’t just honor one person. The Engelert-Guralnik-Kibble-Brout-Hagen-Higgs Boson isn’t exactly practical. One suggestion would be to use initials like BEHGHK, which would apparently be pronounced “berg.” Others have suggested renaming the particle the H Boson. Hagen has suggested the Standard Model Scalar Meson. But even he knows that no one would ever bother with that full name, so he suggested the abbreviation SM Squared.

Peter Higgs has been quite classy about the whole thing, saying that’s he’s open to changing the name to H Boson. But the name “Higgs boson” has been in use for decades now, so chances are that, even if the physicists convince other physicists to change the name, most people will forever call it the Higgs. Which, to be fair, is far better than its other nickname—The God Particle.

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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